Criminal Justice

Supreme Court Declines to Tackle Prosecutorial Misconduct Case

Decision protects bad federal behavior as long as they have probable cause to try a case

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Freedom isn't free. In Dr. Shaygan's case, it will cost $600,000.

A case that touches on two important criminal justice issues – prosecutorial misconduct and the federal government's zealous war on pain medication will not be heading to the Supreme Court, even after nearly 70 federal judges and prosecutors threw their support behind it.

Ali Shaygan, a Miami doctor, had been acquitted by a jury of illegally prescribing pain-killers after one of his patients died. He had faced 141 separate charges. Then he fought back. Via Reuters:

A Miami federal judge later awarded the doctor $602,000 under a federal law called the Hyde Amendment, which allows judges to sanction prosecutors for taking positions that are "vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith."

The judge found that prosecutors acted in bad faith by pursuing new charges and secretly recording Shaygan's defense team. The steps were taken in retribution after Shaygan's attorney tried to keep statements the doctor made to investigators out of evidence, the judge found.

The judge called the prosecution's tactics "profoundly disturbing," adding that they raised "troubling issues about the integrity of those who wield enormous power over the people they prosecute."

But the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the award, ruling that prosecutors have broad discretion under the doctrines of sovereign immunity and separation of powers.

Regardless of prosecutors' subjective ill will, they had an objectively reasonable basis for their acts, the appeals court found.

Shaygan appealed to the Supreme Court and the aforementioned judges and prosecutors supported him. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case without comment.

Not hearing the case obviously doesn't affect the ability to invoke the Hyde Amendment in future instances of malicious prosecution. But the appeals court ruling means that no matter how inappropriate the prosecution's conduct is in the pursuit of a conviction, as long as they can prove they had probable cause to try the case, defendants have no financial recourse, and the prosecution cannot be held accountable under the Hyde Amendment.

You can read more about the details of the case here.

In the meantime, former Reason contributing editor and current Huffington Post writer Radley Balko blogged Tuesday that in the wake of a series on painkillers he wrote in March, he is still getting regular e-mails from patients suffering due to the feds' scrutiny of prescribing doctors. His latest letter, about a man suffering in agony for the last three months of his life, is a real heart-breaker.

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  1. Absolutely. Infuriating. Rule of law my fucking ass.

    1. It’s good to be king.

    2. I only hope that poor man’s pain serves some purpose.

      If it can break through the wall of ignorance surrounding many (not all) of the HuffPo readers/commenters, then I hope he will not have suffered in vain.

      Lefties like to focus on narrative instead of stats, so this is exactly the sort of gut-wrenching thing they need to read, and be told, repeatedly, that their policies are supporting this and allowing it to happen.

      1. As someone who has spent some time in the chronic pain ghetto, JJ, I can tell you that doctors, especially younger ones, are scared shitless of the DEA and many will do anything but prescribe you real, opiate painkillers. And believe me, leftists and rightists alike do not give the tiniest shit about it.

        1. I’ve never had chronic pain, and I never will! I am invincible!

          1. Just wait until you take an arrow to the knee.

        2. I experienced this a few years ago with a herniated disc. It was so bad I could hardly walk, the pain kept me from sleeping at night. It was a ridiculous fight to try to get any doctor to prescribe anything that was actually effective. They are so scared of the DEA they don’t care how badly their patients are suffering.

          1. One of the fringe benefits of working in a health system is that I would have (I believe) an inside track to getting decent meds.

            What a shitty country, though, that if you aren’t an insider, you get to live in pain.

    3. Rule of law my fucking ass.

      Are you keeping count? Because I’m not keeping count. But I figure we pretty much decided you were going to infinity last night, right?

  2. This will probably be the most infuriating thing I read for quite a while, but then again maybe not, since Top Men are working overtime to correct that. Anyhow, compare and contrast the reaction to this (deafening silence) to the reaction to people wanting to secede (RAAAAAGE) from the retards at large.

  3. Shaygan appealed to the Supreme Court and the aforementioned judges and prosecutors supported him. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case without comment.

    “Fuck you, that’s why.”

  4. How many times have prosecutors been charged, prosecuted, or even just disciplined?

    1. Nifong got his hand slapped.

      1. This is why we need a system like Assassination Politics.

  5. Regardless of prosecutors’ subjective ill will, they had an objectively reasonable basis for their acts, the appeals court found.

    I cannot imagine an “objectively reasonable basis” for secretly recording a criminal defense team.

    His latest letter, about a man suffering in agony for the last three months of his life, is a real heart-breaker.

    If I’m terminal, and some dirtbag prosecutor is keeping me in pain, well, what would I have to lose?

    1. I cannot imagine an “objectively reasonable basis” for secretly recording a criminal defense team.

      I cannot imagine an objectively reasonable basis for anything to do with prosecuting the drug war.

  6. I cannot imagine an “objectively reasonable basis” for secretly recording a criminal defense team.

    Are you kidding?

    Win at all costs.

    Gotta keep that conviction rate up. For the children.

  7. Goddamn them all.

  8. “the appeals court ruling means that no matter how inappropriate the prosecution’s conduct is in the pursuit of a conviction, as long as they can prove they had probable cause to try the case, defendants have no financial recourse, and the prosecution cannot be held accountable under the Hyde Amendment.”

    Correct, this was the holding; but it only binds courts applying federal law in the 11th Circuit. Elsewhere it has only persuasive authority.

    What a horrible mistake by the 11th circuit and the high court for denying cert. If the federal government cannot trust its own judicial branch to determine when its agents have gone too far then there is no effective independent check on prosecutorial discretion.

  9. Judges stick together. Like prosecutors stick together. Like cops stick together. Separation of powers? Infallibility? Looks like they are all playing for the same team.

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